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Plantain Primer

By Amanda Agee Published

How to buy, store, ripen, and prep Latin cooking's top banana.

In the United States, the dessert banana dominates supermarket shelves, but in the Caribbean Basin and Latin America, its starchier botanical cousin, the plantain, proliferates. The fruit is so integral to the cuisines of these areas, “we think of it as ours,” noted the Cuban-born chef and culinary historian Maricel Presilla, author of the award-winning exploration of Latin cooking Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America (2012). 

In truth, the plantain is an import that originated in Asia; traveled to Africa; and then made its way to the Americas in the 1500s, where enslaved Africans helped spread it across the region. The reasons the fruit took hold are simple: The plantain not only grows readily in tropical climates but also has the rare quality of being edible at all stages of ripeness. And culinarily, its transformation from dense and starchy to plush and sweet offers unlimited possibility. This cooking banana can be used at discrete points in its ripening cycle or combined at different stages for a specific effect—to blend a firmer texture with a creamier one, say, or a nuttier taste with a fruitier one. “The sky's the limit,” said Presilla. 

  • Buying plantains

    Color is one way to determine ripeness, but assessing texture is also important, because overly cool temperatures can cause darkening but slow ripening.

    Green

    Intensely green. Mildly nutty with no hint of sweetness. Should feel firm and full in their skins.

    Half-Ripe

    Yellowy green, with a few dark spots. Faintly sweet. Should yield slightly to the touch.

    Very Ripe

    Heavily to entirely blackened. Fruity and sweet. Should be soft like a fully ripe avocado.

     

     

    Storing and ripening plantains

    Stored at cool room temperature, green plantains won’t change color for at least a week. They become half-ripe after several more days and ripe to very ripe a week or so later. To accelerate ripening, place the plantains in a paper bag.

  •  

    Peeling plantains

    Plantain skins are tougher than those of other bananas, and they can be hard to remove, even after their outer layer has thinned with ripening. This method can help.

    1. Cut off both ends of plantain. With tip of paring knife, make 1 cut lengthwise through skin, taking care not to cut through to fruit.

    2. Pull away skin from side versus lengthwise. If plantain is green, you may need to use a spoon to help lift skin from fruit.

Recipe Pastelón (Puerto Rican Sweet Plantain and Picadillo Casserole)

With its layers of fried sweet plantains cushioning briny, sofrito-laced ground beef, this Puerto Rican casserole is the epitome of comfort food.

Recipe Fried Sweet Plantains (Plátanos Maduros)

Fried plantains are eaten in many Latin American countries. For our version of Cuban-style plátanos maduros, we made sure to select very ripe plantains with black peels.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.